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Tampa Bay: Reaching New Heights

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Nearly 4 million residents, a labor force exceeding 1.9 million and the presence of some 150,000 businesses give Florida's Tampa Bay region significant economic clout. Here, where residents enjoy both a sunny lifestyle and a robust economy, the combined forces of ongoing government cooperation, workforce excellence, educational opportunity, superior transportation and reasonable business costs are helping to ensure exponential growth among both established and emerging businesses in key economic sectors.

"Our employment growth and our economic vitality have been strong and continue to be so," says Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group.

This cycle of ongoing success means the area is a top-tier choice for life sciences, financial and professional services, information technology, manufacturing, marine technology, defense and aviation industries.

Key sector growth

The area's reliable labor force was a prime consideration for Countrywide Home Loans, the mortgagebanking arm of residential lending giant Countrywide Financial Corp., when it chose Tampa West Industrial Park for its new financial services center.

Facts & Figures
Population 3,997,975
Labor Force 1,925,321
Households 1,644,100
AVG Household EBI $47,462
Consumer Spending $70.22 bil.
Total Retail Sales $55.96 bil.

Universities/Colleges
- Clearwater Christian College
- Eckerd College
- Florida College
- Florida Southern College
- New College of Florida
- Ringling School of Art and Design
- Saint Leo University
- Southeastern University
- University of South Florida
- The University of Tampa
- Warner Southern College
- Webber International University ______________________________

Community Colleges
- Hillsborough Community College
- Manatee Community College
- Pasco-Hernando Community College
- Polk Community College
- St. Petersburg College ______________________________

Airports
- St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport
- Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
- Tampa International Airport ______________________________

Seaports
- Port Manatee
- Port of St. Petersburg
- Port of Tampa ______________________________

Source: U.S. Census Bureau; Demographics USA 2005, TradeDimensions International Inc.; Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. EBI = effective buying/disposable income.

"We have found a dynamic and friendly business climate, a booming financial services industry, a skilled workforce and a prime location that meets our needs," says Angelo Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide Financial. The company's investment of $20 million in a campus that includes two buildings and 230,000 square feet will mean 1,000 new mortgage processing and IT jobs for the region.

Other Bay Area financial services firms include MetLife, Progressive Insurance, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, St. Petersburgbased Raymond James, State Farm and Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. Accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers plans to add more than 300 employees in Tampa by 2008, bringing its total employment to 2,000.

MetLife is also expanding, constructing a 115,000-square-foot, four-story office building at Highwoods Preserve in Hillsborough County. This is in addition to two 150,000-square-foot of- fice buildings MetLife bought in the same area recently. MetLife will hire about 150 more workers, bringing its staff to around 1,700 in the region.

IT growth in Hillsborough includes Quadrant Software, which in early 2006 broke ground for a $2 million, 10,000-square-foot office headquarters in Temple Terrace. The 60-employee company, lured from Boston partly by the state's Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund incentive, expects to create 25 new jobs.

Medical technology and life sciences make up 8% of workplaces and 11% of area employment. Tampa Bay leads Florida by employing 31% of the state's medical device manufacturing workers, including employees at Micron PharmaWorks in Pasco County.

PharmaWorks makes automated blister package machinery for pharmaceutical giants like Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Pfizer and is expanding from 26 to 40 employees at its new 19,700-squarefoot facility in the West Pasco Industrial Park. Such growth will continue, says Rogel. "In the coming year, we'll see some really significant growth in the healthcare and life sciences fields."

A driving force is the decade-old Florida High Tech Corridor Council. The corridor stretches eastwest along I-275 and I-4 from St. Petersburg to Daytona Beach, and northsouth from Gainesville to Sebring. Since 1996, the Council has supported the service areas of the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida. In 2005, the Council welcomed the University of Florida, thus merging the strengths of three world-class universities.

Today, 23 counties benefit from Council efforts to boost funding programs and workforce development.

Top-notch education

Topping the list of stellar educational opportunities in the region is the University of South Florida. With campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Lakeland and Sarasota-Manatee, USF offers some 200 academic programs at undergraduate and graduate levels.

USF's College of Medicine and the on-campus H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, a National Cancer Institute-designated facility, spur the regional medical economy. The National Science Foundation ranks USF as one of the two fastest growing research universities in the U.S., and USF researchers are on track to receive $300 million-plus in 2006- 07 funding. The university is a leader in genetics and public health, research about Alzheimer's disease, search-and-rescue robotics and bio-defense.

USF's astounding growth includes the new, $42.9 million, 230,000- square-foot Research Park, where university researchers and local businesses share labs; USF set a record by negotiating 20 intellectual property commercialization deals in FY 2005.

The College of Marine Science at USF in St. Petersburg continues to draw international acclaim and interest from private sector scientific institutions for its research programs in biological, chemical, geological and physical oceanography.

Florida's Tampa Bay region is home to more than 20 institutions of higher education, including the third largest university in the Southeast-- the University of South Florida.

In Sarasota, New College was named the nation's No. 1 value in public higher education by Princeton Review's America's 374 Best Colleges. Also in Sarasota, the renowned Ringling School of Art and Design has 1,100 students pursuing degrees in illustration, computer animation, fine arts and interior design.

The University of Tampa, a private, four-year school on 90 riverfront acres in downtown Tampa, offers more than 65 undergraduate and pre-professional programs.

Five community colleges also serve the region, including St. Petersburg College, the first community college in Florida to offer four-year degrees.

Superior transportation

Tampa Bay has three international airports, plus dozens of general aviation, municipal and private airports. Tampa International Airport anchors Florida's largest business district, Westshore, with some 9.8 million square feet of office space in more than 100 buildings.

Deepwater seaports are in Tampa, Port Manatee and St. Petersburg. CSX Transportation, which provides rail service throughout the region, has plans to build a massive terminal and inter-modal distribution center in Polk County. The CSX Integrated Logistics Center will employ 8,500.

Interstates I-75, I-4 and I-275 link Tampa Bay to the rest of the state and nation. In addition, the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, with its new elevated express lanes, connects Brandon in east Hillsborough with downtown Tampa, where more than 6,000 new condos are being built or planned.

A city on the move

Downtown St. Petersburg is home to a new office complex being built by electric utility Progress Energy Florida. The first phase, a 16-story building to house 500 Progress Energy employees by 2007, includes retail space and parking.

Existing businesses, like manufacturer Halkey-Roberts Corp., are expanding here, too. This manufacturer of medical, inflation and container components, opened a 72,000-square-foot plant in St. Petersburg in 1980. When it outgrew that space, the company mulled moving to Texas or Alabama. But local economic development officials stepped in, and Halkey, a subsidiary of Atrion Corp., decided to reinvest nearly $20 million in Pinellas County. "The plan put together by the city and county officials was by far the most thorough and sensible," says Atrion CEO Emile Battat.

The result is a new 160,000-squarefoot plant, complete with a large "clean room" for medical manufacturing, at St. Petersburg's La Entrada mixed-use development, plus the retention of 187 jobs and the creation of 79 new ones. In exchange, Halkey accessed several fiscal incentives, including the Quali- fied Target Industry Tax Refund. And because the 10-acre site is in a statedesignated brownfields area, Halkey is eligible for Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus funds.

With aid from the Pinellas Technical Education Center, Halkey also won a Quick Response Training grant of $78,120 to help prepare new employees. Says Battat, "The invaluable assistance we received from Pinellas County and St. Petersburg confirmed that Pinellas was the right choice."

Elsewhere in Pinellas, fast-growing OneSimpleLoan, a student loan consolidator, is adding 52 new jobs and retaining 30 posts at its headquarters in Oldsmar. OneSimpleLoan tapped Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund incentives for a total of $156,000.

The ACCRA index puts Tampa Bay's cost of living at about 6% below the U.S. average.

"We looked at a variety of locations," says Paul Simino, company president, "but expanding in Pinellas County was the best decision."

At 120-employee PostcardMania, a Clearwater direct marketer that mails millions of postcard ads monthly, plans call for a new $5 million headquarters next to the company's existing warehouse. The company also received a $19,000 state Incumbent Worker Training grant, says CEO Joy Gendusa. "Definitely, the grant gave us impetus to do in-house training."

Low business costs

Tampa Bay is ranked the nation's second most economical place to do business, according to KPMG's 2006 Competitive Alternatives Study of 23 major U.S. cities.

Low costs are helping to grow the region's northernmost county, Citrus, where the population has tripled over three decades. Undeveloped land lures residential developers and industry leaders alike: Citrus issued 3,309 building permits for new homes in 2005, one-third more than in 2004.

Progress Energy is the largest Citrus County employer with about 1,500 employees. Its Crystal River plant generates 3,140 megawatts, about half of the electricity used by the utility's 1.6 million Florida customers. Another large employer in Citrus County is Pro-Line Boats with 400 employees. In Hernando, the County Airport is a "hotbed of our economic development," says Michael McHugh, director of business development for Hernando. In the 2,400-acre industrial park area, Hernando has developed nearly 1.6 million square feet of speculative space because "it shortens the timeline for getting a building constructed," says McHugh.

CompuLink, whose 35 employees specialize in cable assembly manufacturing, recently leased a building in 60-company Airport Industrial Park. Century-old Emery Thompson, the world's largest maker of batch freezers, relocated from Bronx, N.Y., to the park after considering several states. To serve clients like Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs, Emery Thompson spent more than $750,000 on a 20,000- square-foot building. Lower costs and excellent transportation were among factors prompting Emery's move.

In Pasco County, projects "are larger than before," says Mary Jane Stanley, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "We're going from 20,000- or 30,000-square-foot projects to 75,000- or 100,000-squarefoot projects." Pasco is among the 10 fastest-growing counties in Florida and among the nation's top 40.

One big Pasco win is Opinicus, a flight simulator company that moved its headquarters and production facilities into a $5 million building here in mid-2006. More than 200 employees will build simulators for the Eclipse 500 "microjet" aircraft, and do work for Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, the U.S. military and dozens of clients. Says James Takats, president: "The Pasco EDC has been a lifesaver, allowing us to continue to do our business while we moved forward on the new facility."

Cash-register tape maker Eastern Ribbon & Roll invested nearly $4 million, relocating about 60 employees and creating 35 new jobs when it moved into 98,000 square feet of space in Pasco. Eastern received a reduction in county impact fees, a $300,000 Economic Development Transportation Fund grant to improve road access and a Quick Response Training incentive of $94,595. "Pasco County offered us the best solution for our growing business," says Blaise Collura, CEO.

Success everywhere

Jupiter Marine International chose to expand to a 55,000-square-foot facility in Palmetto to build its centerconsole, inboard boat. One reason, reports Nancy Engel, executive director of the Economic Development Council, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, was the presence of 15 other boat builders nearby.

"We were trying to find a place where we would have room to expand, in an environment where the city was businessfriendly and there was a labor pool to draw from," says Carl Herndon, president.

At the eight-acre site near I-75 and the Manatee River, Jupiter can test and demonstrate its product, and also tap the experienced labor pool. Jupiter invested about $1 million in improvements and expects to add 50 workers to its initial staff of 25 by spring 2007.

CCB Credit Services, an Illinoisbased accounts receiving management firm, opened a call center in Sarasota County in 2006 where it expects to employ 40 people. "We believe the Sarasota office will play a significant role in the continued success of our company," says Ron Krech, president. "Sarasota was an ideal solution."

The surrounding area has proved ideal for many companies, according to Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. Window and door manufacturer PGT Industries and FCCI Insurance Group are just two that have found homes here recently.

In Polk County, Coca-Cola Enterprises, franchise bottler for Coca-Cola Co., is building a 100,000-square-foot distribution center near I-4 to employ 100 people. The bottler already employs about 2,800 in Central Florida.

Also in Polk, MonierLifetile LLC is building a concrete tile plant, an expansion of 37,000 square feet of an existing Lake Wales facility. Southern Wine & Spirits of America, the nation's largest wine and spirits distributor, recently opened a 653,000- square-foot distribution center on 80 acres in Lakeland.

Jim DeGennaro, director of business development for the Central Florida Development Council of Polk County, reports 18 projects representing 994 new jobs and $213 million in capital investment since the beginning of fiscal year 2005. Much of that growth, he says, can be attributed to Polk's location.

"Within a 100-mile radius, there's a resident population of 8.5 million people, half the state's population. No place in the Southeast, not even Atlanta, can say that."

-- Fred W. Wright Jr./Gary Shepherd